The truly outstanding and significant Second World War ‘first for the Middle East’ 5th July 1940 Blenheim Air Gunner’s immediate Distinguished Flying Medal group awarded to Aircraftman 1st Class later Sergeant A.A. Meadows, Royal Air Force, who as an Air Gunner was attached from 45 Squadron to 113 Squadron and on 5th July 1940 during a raid on and enemy troop and motor transport concentration near Bardia, displayed extraordinary presence of mind after his aircraft piloted by Flight Lieutenant ‘Raff’ Bentley, a future Air Vice-Marshal and Chief of Air Staff of the Southern Rhodesian Air Force, passed over the north end of the Bardia defences and received a burst of machine gun fire which killed the observer and wound the pilot in the arm, rendering him inoperative. Meadows, the air gunner, came forward in the machine and applied a tourniquet to the pilot’s arm. Although the aircraft was damaged and Meadows had not been trained as a pilot, he assumed control of the aircraft, and showing great determination and ability flew it to Sidi Barrani and landed it safely. By his cool and gallant conduct he undoubtedly saved the machine and his pilot, and won the very first Distinguished Flying Medal in the Middle East theatre of war. Within only three days news of the award of his medal had been published, his face and story were plastered all over the news, and he gave a wireless interview on his action. An example of the fan mail he received is still with the group, written by a lady in Cairo on 18th July 1940 it reads:
‘Dear Tommy from G. Britain: I saw your picture and read all about your exploit in the Bourse Egyptienne of July the 15th. You had great courage to improvise yourself a pilot, and to bring back safely your plane, guided only by the oral indications given to you by the wounded pilot - a brave pilot too for not losing his presence of mind. But what I admire, like a woman, more than anything else, it that you improvised yourself a doctor too, and were able to stop the haemorrhage of your wounded friend and thus save his life. This was really grand and heroic of you, and I can imagine how the parents of your friend love you already, and how you feel happy yourself, for having been able to save a friends life. You have been decorated for your heroism, and I join the thousands of readers of the Bourse Egyptienne, who appreciate you in their heart.’
Having received his award in the rank of Aircraftman 1st Class, a most unusual occurrence, Meadows went on to flew a number of sorties with 45 Squadron against the Italians, and was killed in action during a raid to bomb a suspected petrol dump at Gura on 13th October 1940. His being one of two aircraft suspected of being shot down by Italian aircraft on that day.
Distinguished Flying Medal, GVI 1st type bust; (612422. A.C.1. A.A. MEADOWS. R.A.F.); 1939-1945 Star; Africa Star; War Medal.
Condition: edge bruise over part of rank on first, overall Good Very Fine.
Together with the following original documents which have all been laminated for protection.
1) Letter written by a Mademoiselle Slavka Cisserand, whose address is care of the YMCA, Suliman Pasha Street, Cairo, and sent to Meadows on 18th July 1940, detailing her appreciation of the act which led to his award.
2) Newspaper cutting with image of the recipient, detailing his act.
3) Royal Air Force Middle East Headquarters Letter written to the recipient’s father, detailing his son’s citation, and offering sincere sympathy on his being listed as missing in action. Dated February 1941.
Albert Alfred Meadows saw service as an Aircraftman 1st Class (No.612422) with the Royal Air Force, and was trained as an Air Gunner.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War he found himself employed with 45 Squadron attached to 113 Squadron. 113 Squadron had been posted out to the Middle East in April 1938, and then converted to the Blenheim aircraft in June 1939. After Italy joined the war on 10th June 1040, the following day the squadron participated in the first attack by the RAF in the Middle East, this being on the Italian air force base at El Adem, where 18 aircraft were destroyed or damaged on the ground, against the loss of three British aircraft from three squadrons.
At the outbreak of the war with Italy, 113 Squadron formed part of No.250 Wing at Ismailia, whilst 45 Squadron from whom Meadows had been attached, formed part of 202 Wing, also at Ismailia. In all, at this stage, seven squadrons formed what became known as the Desert Air Force. Unfortunately the Squadron Operations Record Book for June to August 1940 for 113 Squadron was lost during the First Libyan Campaign, and hence it is not possible to confirm exactly which of these sorties Meadows was in.
During this early period of operations, Meadows found himself part of the three man crew of Pilot Officer Alfred Mulock Bentley, nicknamed Raff, the pilot, who would go on to become an Air Vice-Marshal and Chief of Air Staff of the Southern Rhodesian Air Force from 1961 to 1964, during which period he would co-ordinate the airlift of some 6,000 Belgian refugees from the Congo. Bentley would also become the recipient of an Air Force Cross in 1944, an OBE in 1946, and a CBE in 1962. The other crew member was the aircraft’s navigator, Flight Sergeant (No.366465) John Frederick Taylor, the son of Frederickl and Sarah Mary Taylor, and husband of Doris May Taylor, of Salisbury, Wiltshire.
According to a book on the air war in the Middle East, ’on 5th July 1940 nine Blenheim IV’s of 113 Squadron “successfully bombed large enemy troop and motor transport concentration” near Bardia. All the aircraft returned but Flight Lieutenant A.M. Bentley (he became a flight commander of ‘B’ Flight shortly after the incident but was at the time just a Pilot Officer) was wounded and his observer, Flight Sgt. J.F. Taylor, was killed by ground fire.’
These incidents of Blenheim aircraft being used on ground strafing missions and suffering possible loss brought the ire of the commander of RAF Middle East Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore, who sent a message on 8th July 1940 to Air Commodore Raymond Collishaw, AOC commanding 202 Group in Egypt. The message reads as follows: “Whilst fully appreciating the initiative and spirit shown by the squadrons operating under your command in the Western Desert, I must draw your immediate attention to the urgent necessity for conserving resources. Instances are still occurring when Blenheim’s are being used for low machine gun attack against defended camps and aerodromes….. I consider such operations unjustified having regard to our limited resources of which you are well aware.”
Collishaw replied that his pilots were acting in contravention of his orders, after which he took steps to prevent any reoccurrence. Of what has been termed a “reprimand” and “sharp criticism” from Longmore, Collishaw recommended that Bentley and a number of other pilots in his squadron be awarded an immediate Distinguished Flying Cross for “valour, courage and devotion to duty in air action with the enemy”. These recommendations were in-fact made two days before Collishaw’s dressing down by Longmore, but the reason for Bentley not eventually receiving any award may be because it had become clear that it was in-fact Bentley’s air gunner who was the hero of the hour, namely Sergeant Meadows, who had performed his duties in truly spectacular fashion. The result was that Meadows’ had his face and act splashed over a number of newspapers, he being interviewed, with the recording being played to the British public over the wireless. Meadows’s was about to become the first airman to win the Distinguished Flying Medal in the Middle East theatre during the Second World War.
On 8th July 1940, only three days are the incident, and having by that time already been transferred back to 45 Squadron, Meadows received official notification of his award, it having been forwarded from the Air Ministry via 113 Squadron and 202 Group and on to 45 Squadron. An official Air Ministry dated 8th July states: ‘On recommendation of A.O.C.-in-Chief, His Majesty the King is graciously pleased to award the D.F.M. to 220039 (A.) C.I. Meadows, A.A. Wireless Operator / Air Gunner for conspicuous gallantry on operations at Bardia on 5 July.’
The recommendation for Meadows’ award was officially detailed in an RAF Middle East Command letter of 8th July 1940. ‘On the return of an aircraft of No.113 Squadron from a bombing attack on M.T. concentration south of Bardia at 1820 hours on 5th July 1940, the aircraft piloted by Flight Lieutenant A.M. Bentley, and in which 612422 A.C.1. Meadows, A.A., was air gunner, passed over the north end of the Bardia defences and received a burst of machine gun fire which killed the observer and wound the pilot in the arm, rendering him inoperative. A.C.1. Meadows, the air gunner, came forward in the machine and applied a tourniquet to the pilot’s arm. Although the aircraft was damaged and A.C.1. Meadows had not been trained as a pilot, he assumed control of the aircraft, and showing great determination and ability flew it to Sidi Barrani and landed it safely. By his cool and gallant conduct he undoubtedly saved the machine.’
Various newspapers published details of Meadows’ imminent award, and within a week of the incident his name and face were plastered over the news. ‘The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post for Saturday 13th July 1940 wrote under the headline ‘Bomber Saved By Gunner - Flown back to base’: ‘A./C. Meadows was a gunner in Saturday’s raid on Bardia, Libbya, where a troop concentration was bombed. When the pilot of his ‘plane was wounded and the observer killed, he applied a tourniquet to the pilot’s arm. Then, though untrained as a pilot, he took control of the ‘plane under the officer’s instructions and brought it back to base.’
Meadow’s was also shortly to receive fan mail, one surviving example included with the group was written by a Mademoiselle Slavka Cisserand, whose address is care of the YMCA, Suliman Pasha Street, Cairo.
The letter dated 18th July 1940 reads: ‘Dear Tommy from G. Britain: I saw your picture and read all about your exploit in the Bourse Egyptienne of July the 15th. You had great courage to improvise yourself a pilot, and to bring back safely your plane, guided only by the oral indications given to you by the wounded pilot - a brave pilot too for not losing his presence of mind. But what I admire, like a woman, more than anything else, it that you improvised yourself a doctor too, and were able to stop the haemorrhage of your wounded friend and thus save his life. This was really grand and heroic of you, and I can imagine how the parents of your friend love you already, and how you feel happy yourself, for having been able to save a friends life. You have been decorated for your heroism, and I join the thousands of readers of the Bourse Egyptienne, who appreciate you in their heart.
But I send to you and your sick man some sweets, cigarettes, books etc., and will be really grateful to you, if you let me know if there is anything particular, you, and your friend pilot, would like to have, so that I may send it to you, with the very next car. I insist on this point and would like you to believe me, that it will be a great pleasure and favour to me to send you anything you like.
Mme Slavka Cisserand…
It was on the 19th July 1940 that Meadows’ award of the Distinguished Flying Medal was published in the London Gazette, what in many ways must be a record for the speed of an award being made during the Second World War, it being only 14 days since he had performed the action to earn it.
Meadows was as mentioned also a serving member of 45 Squadron. Another Blenheim unit, it had also been operational out in the Middle East against the Italians since 11th June 1940, being one of the three squadrons which had participated in the first attack against the Italian airforce base at El Adem.
From mid September 1940 onwards Meadows, now ranked as a Sergeant, is shown as back operational with 45 Squadron, and as air gunner to the aircraft flown by a Sergeant Beverley, on 14th September he took part in a raid on the Asmara aerodrome, a three aircraft attack led by a Pilot Officer Gibbs. Each of the aircraft carried 12x40 and 12 x 20F and 10x25 lb incendiary bombs. A number of direct hits were scored on buildings and several good sized fires were started. The attack was made in line astern at 1,500 feet. The weather was stormy and anti-aircraft fire of a heavy calibre was encountered, but was inaccurate. The leader’s aircraft was hit by small arms fire but undamaged and all aircraft returned to base.
As air gunner to a Pilot Officer Richardson, on 16th September Meadows’ flew on a photographic reconnaissance of Gura and Asmara, 4x250lb G.P. and 4x25lb incendiary bombs were carrie. A line overlap of Gura was taken and then the pilot saw a CR42 below him. He dive attacked, but the front gun was jammed, He then dropped his bombs on Asmara hangars and was chased and badly shot up by the enemy fighter. The aircraft landed safely.
On 25th September a Flight Lieutenant T. Smith led a three aircraft attack against dispersed aircraft at Gura. Meadows flew in the aircraft flown by Flying Officer Woodroffe. After about 1/2 hours flying whilst over Mai Edega, the leader had to turn back with engine trouble, and the leadership was passed to Woodroffe who, in company with the second aircraft flown by a Flight Lieutenant Bush, proceeded on to the target, and attacked the dispersed aircraft. One CR42 attacked No.2 (Meadows) as he dived on to the target and scored a hit which damaged the actuating gear. Meadows got in a good burst and the fighter broke away. Both aircraft landed safely.
On the 27th September he again flew with Sergeant Beverley to Gura and then proceeded to perform a line overlap of a line Gura-Hal Erga at 17,500 feet. One CR42 was spotted - the upper surface grass green, passed some 2,000 feet below in the opposite direction and no attack developed. Then on 30th September when flying with Flying Officer Woodroffe he took part in a three aircraft raid to attack Gura and approached the target at 16,000 feet via Addi Veri, diving to 2,000 feet above the target.Each aircraft dropped a stick of bombs across the hangars, comprising four 250lb and four incendiary bombs. One of the aircraft was attacked by three CR42’s and fire was exchanged, but not damage to the aircraft or casualties amongst the personnel. A further three CR42’s and one CR32 were seen north of Gura at least one minute before our aircraft were on target. Slight anti-aircraft fire was encountered, but all three machines returned safely. The bombs of No.1 and No.2 aircraft, the latter being the one in which Meadows was flying, were noted to have fallen in the target area.
On 3rd October Meadows flew with the raid leader, Flying Officer Woodroffe, during a three aircraft raid on the Agordat railway station. Each aircraft carried four 250l G.P. bombs and four incendiary bombs. The Observer of Woodroffe’s aircraft, Sergeant Ryles, together with Meadows, observed five bursts on the line at M8 and M7, with one incendiary seen burning at the west corner of the building M9 and explosions were seen among buildings at M8, with flames at L6. The target at PP6 was believed to have been destroyed, and a hit was seen on the railway side of PP7. Two VPP photos were taken of the target. No anti-aircraft fire was encountered and no enemy aircraft were seen, and all planes returned safely.
On the 6th October Meadows flew as Air Gunner to Flying Officer Woodroffe, the flight leader, during a three aircraft raid on the hangars at Massawa. The aircraft carried four 250lb GP bombs and four 25lb incendiaries. Four bombs fell in Arab village north of the landing ground and others fell in the sand at map reference G15. A line overlap of the bombing run was taken. The only opposition were three bursts of anti-aircraft fire seen by Sergeant lacks haw in the third aircraft, on turning away from the target. In addition one submarine was spotted and nine merchantmen in the harbour. The north hangar of the target was badly damaged, with aircraft seen at the No.1 position. This bad bombing of the target area was due to Sergeant Ryles, the observer in Meadows’ aircraft, having omitted to adjust the T.V of his bombsight correctly.
On 12th October Meadows flew in Woodroffe’s aircraft as part of a three aircraft raid on the hangars and buildings at Asmara aerodrome. Each aircraft carried four 250 l GP bombs. Two bombs hit the north hangar on the civilian side, one fell beside hangars, and others amongst buildings and hangars. The remainder overshot. Photographs were taken of the aerodrome, and generally speaking the anti-aircraft fire was only of moderate intensity and very inaccurate. The bursts which were, red, white and black, were too low and too late. Enemy aircraft were seen astern by all the gunners, but they did not come within the range of the guns. A further thirteen aircraft were seen on the ground at the aerodrome.
Meadows final and fateful sortie was on the 13th October 1940, at raid to Gura. Three aircraft set off to bomb a suspected petrol dump at Gura. The flight leader was Woodroffe, with the Observer, Sergeant Ryles. Of the three aircraft, the one flown by Pilot Officer Griffiths left the formation and returned to base owing to engine trouble, and the other two aircraft then continued on to the target, but met with disaster, and all six aircrew were killed, along with a Pilot Officer Roberts - the 45 Squadron Intelligence Officer who was along for the sortie. Both aircraft were shot down by enemy aircraft.
Meadows is buried in Asmara War Cemetery.